Job vacancies for PMETs increase but govt also wants more foreign PMETs to come

The Straits Times published a news report today saying that there were more job vacancies available for PMETs last year (‘More job vacancies last year, with more PMET positions‘, 20 Mar).

It quoted a survey conducted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which showed that 63,300 job vacancies were available as of September last year, up from 53,100 a year earlier.

More of the available jobs were for PMETs, whose share of vacancies rose to 53 per cent last year from 49 per cent in 2017 and 48 per cent in 2016, MOM added. Academic qualifications were not the main consideration for hiring for 52 per cent of PMET vacancies last year, according to the survey.

Teaching and training professionals topped the list of recruits in demand. Software, Web and multimedia developers and systems analysts accounted for the second-and third-most PMET openings.

However, despite the rosy survey results on job vacancies presented, the latest labour marker report released by MOM last week showed that PMETs had accounted for a staggering 79.3% of retrenched residents in the 4th quarter of last year.

This brings the total figure for retrenched local PMETs to 75.8% of all retrenchments for 2018, a record level since such data was first published by MOM in 2006. Some 58% of retrenched residents had degrees, while 19.9% held diplomas. The bulk of the individuals who were retrenched were aged 40 to 49 (34%) and 50 and over (33.6%).

It’s not known if having more job vacancies would enable those retrenched local PMETs to fill them.

But observers think that local PMETs are now becoming the new vulnerable group and more needs to be done to mitigate the risk of them being displaced.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah suggested raising the minimum qualifying salary for Employment Pass holders and increasing the length of time firms must advertise jobs on the national jobs portal before they can apply to hire a foreign professional. This would minimise the chances of companies substituting local PMETs with foreign ones, he said.

Higher value-added PMETs sought for

While the government recently has announced the cutting back on S-Pass quotas, Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said just last year that the Government wants to encourage a shift towards employing more higher value-added foreign workers (i.e, foreign PMETs).

Some of the “higher value-added” foreign PMETs identified are those in IT, wealth management and biotechnology areas. Chan hopes these FTs would help boost Singapore’s capabilities in those areas. At the same time, companies here which employ such foreign PMETs should help transfer expertise to locals, he said.

When asked about the balance of foreign vs local workers in Singapore, he said, “There’s no magic number but where we are at the balancing point now is about one-third (foreigners), two-thirds (locals).”

Josephine Teo and MAS MD also want Singapore to have more foreign PMETs

Separately, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo also wanted to have more foreigners working here.

It is possible to maintain flat employment levels, with no increase in the number of locals or foreigners, but that may not be ideal, she said. Realistically, the workforce needs a little bit of growth to support “enterprise activity”, she said.

“The more you are able to do productivity-driven growth, the less dependent you are on manpower growth, which works to our advantage.”

Last year, Managing Director of Monetary Authority of Singapore, Ravi Menon gave a speech at an IPS conference highlighting the need for Singapore to hire more foreign PMETs. “There is scope to improve the quality of the foreign workforce,” he said.

“The trend of improving quality in our foreign workforce has already begun,” he commented. “The proportion of work permit holders has declined by about 10 percentage points over last 10 years, while the proportion of S-Pass and employment pass holders has increased by around 10 percentage points.”

And he wants this trend, that is, the hiring of more foreign PMETS, to continue as “we restructure our economy towards higher value-added activities, seek deeper skills, and undertake more pervasive digitalisation”. He argued that there must be some flexibility in the local-to-foreigner ratio to “match economic cycles, changing circumstances and opportunities”.

Ms Teo agreed, “If the only way in which businesses can grow is by taking employees from other businesses, there will be more friction. So you have to allow for a little bit of growth.” That is, she meant changing the rules to allow for “a little bit” of growth in foreign PMET population.

Cheap foreign PMETs flooding Singapore market instead?

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that Singapore has not been exactly attracting those “higher value-added” foreign PMETs whom Chan talked about.

A foreign PMET posted on the Singapore Expat Forum in Jan revealing that he is trying to obtain a Work Permit to work in Singapore despite being a “skilled” IT personnel.

Apparently, he studied in some school in Singapore and graduated with a diploma in IT in Dec. Thereafter, he successfully applied for a, presumably, IT job here and was offered a salary of $2,400 a month by a company.

The company said that he would not be eligible for EP or S-Pass and is trying to employ him by applying for a Work Permit.

“I am so worried. How many chances that my work permit will be approved?” the foreigner asked.